This is a guest post, contributed by Michaela Kajiwara. Interested in blogging for Higher Ed Live? Get in touch!
The world is changing fast. Technology is revolutionizing the way we interact and communicate with one another, and making the world a much smaller place. Recent economic changes mean that many individuals will pursue several career paths over the course of their lives, and many workers may require additional career training above and beyond the scope of a four-year degree.
Thanks to these changes, the field of higher education is undergoing a rapid transformation that could have a lasting effect on the institution as a whole. Increased student reliance on social media is already having an effect on higher education. Students around the world are more mobile than ever in pursuit of their degrees, and more employers and students are seeking non-degree education and training. Academia is moving away from reliance on tenured faculty, and toward the development of lifelong relationships with students and alumni.
1. Increased Student Dependence on Social Media
Today’s college students grew up using social media. They rely on social media to stay in touch with family and friends, organize social events, and yes — share knowledge with classmates and professors. Professors have already begun to bend social media and other Web applications to their needs, using Web platforms to upload syllabi and assignments, collect student work, and even teach whole courses.
University professors are using social media to promote themselves and their work, blog about their research, and hold professional seminars. Students, who come to universities and colleges already well-versed in the use of technology, are learning to think about the Web in new ways as they, too, start participating in a newly emergent, global academic and scientific network that is increasingly independent from institutions of higher learning.
2. A Growing Emphasis on Non-Degree Education and Training
As many young people have discovered in recent years, a college degree alone no longer guarantees a good job. Most young people in college today will follow multiple career paths during of their lives, and a significant portion of them are destined for jobs that don’t even exist yet. How can colleges and universities prepare students for jobs that don’t exist, or that have recently emerged? Traditional degree programs often can’t keep up with the rapid pace of change in the workplace.
Confidence in the value of traditional four-year degrees is flagging. Employers want candidates with job skills that aren’t being taught in traditional degree programs. For this reason, many students are pursuing graduate certificates and competency-based programs that teach just the skills needed to do a particular job. Many companies are putting together these competency-based programs according to their own needs, and some are collaborating with universities to confer accredited degrees on those employees who complete the programs.
In the future, workers may amass a series of certificates and qualifications over their professional lives, rather than obtaining a single degree in youth. Continuing education programs, complete with keynote speakers, seminars, and workshops, could someday replace traditional degree programs for the majority of workers.
3. A Massive Shift Away From Tenured Faculty
The days when tenured faculty comprised the majority of university professors are over — now most professors are adjuncts or graduate teaching assistants. Thanks to information technology that can be used to empower a diverse group of instructors to create a consistent and effective educational experience, many students no longer see the need for tenured faculty, especially since adjuncts help keep costs low.
4. Growing Student Mobility Around the World
Today’s students are no longer pouring into the United States in search of the best education in the world. Many of them are pouring out of the U.S. in search of greener educational pastures. Universities in China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries are giving American institutions a run for their money in the global rankings. And while today’s students are more mobile than ever in their search for the right school, online distance learning means that students are no longer obliged to change their geographic location in order to attend school.
5. The Emergence of Lifelong Relationships Between Alumni and Their Alma Maters
Traditionally, the relationship between a university and its alumni is a symbolic one that consists of little actual interaction, save when the graduate chooses to donate money to his or her school. But increasingly, schools are cultivating ongoing relationships with their graduates. This means that in the near future, graduates will be able to return to their alma maters for continuing education throughout their lives, tap the schools’ career counseling resources, and even participate in the school’s cultural life after retirement. Perhaps it’s this type of ongoing relationship that will convince many young people that a traditional four-year degree still has value, after all.
Global society is evolving rapidly, and the institution of higher education is evolving with it. The trends that are shaping higher institution today could mean that in just 10 or 20 years’ time, colleges and universities could be very different — even unrecognizable — when compared to the institutions of today.